I was looking through photos from our sailing trip, and I came across one of a child wearing swim gear. Those of us who are older may envision a swimsuit, maybe some sunscreen.
Oh no. Children swim almost fully clothed these days. There's a long-sleeved swim shirt to go with swim shorts. On our recent trip, I saw swimming children with headgear. The hat fully covered the head and forehead, with a bill, and flaps that covered the neck. The children's exposed skin was slathered with sunscreen.
I've already had 3 skin cancers removed, so I do understand the dangers of the sun and how those dangers accumulate across a lifetime of exposure. But I also wonder if we get so focused on some dangers that we forget to think about others.
Later on our trip, I saw those same children scampering on the side of a sailboat--no life jacket or personal flotation device. I asked the father if the children could swim--no.
Earlier in the day, the parents had been more cautious. But as they grew comfortable on the boat, they let the children remove the PFD as long as they kept their feet on the cockpit. And then, it was only a matter of time before they relaxed that rule.
Which poses more danger to a child, sunlight or drowning?
But I am not a parent, and I'm not as interested in these issues as I might appear. I'm really looking at the metaphor.
In our own creative lives, where do we need more protection? Are we so focused on protecting ourselves in one way that we fail to see other dangers? What are the best practices that we should be adopting? Where have we gone slightly overboard?
I started thinking about swim gear as metaphor before the North Carolina Poet Laureate was chosen and then stepped down. I have hesitated to comment, but I found myself disheartened by all of it. Part of me was rooting for the less-experienced laureate, but I certainly understood her desire to remove herself from the meanness. What ugly, ugly things people said about her.
I also see it through a lens of gender. The ugliest things I saw were written by males.
And if I'm being honest, I thought about myself. What if I had had a great turn of luck and gotten an honor? People might have pointed to my lack of a book with a spine. People might have said, "She has a Ph.D., not an MFA. She writes about literature, not writing literature. She's a nice lady poet, not a muscular poet, like we like. She's much too accessible."
It takes me back to a comment that I got on a rejection slip years ago: "Well, your poems certainly are accessible." I heard the sneering tone.
And so, I wrote a poem. I've posted it before, but I'll post it again. This poem was first published in The Xavier Review, and was reprinted in The Worcester Review.
He says the poems are accessible,
as if it is a bad thing, as if loose
limbed poems spread open their legs
to anyone who gives them a glance.
Those poems don’t even demand drinks
and dinner first. Slutty poems. Ruint.
Perhaps he wants a sulky
poem, one that lets itself be petted, who pretends
to like him, but always holds a part
of itself back while he tortures
himself with evidence of his poem’s infidelities:
other people, plainer than him, who profess
to understand this poem when he cannot.
Perhaps he prefers poems that ignore
laws of accessibility, that barricade themselves behind bars
and up stairs and through perilous mazes.
After tunneling through to the heart
of the poem, he’s so disoriented
that he can’t hold his head upright.
Better yet, poems that speak a language
of their own creation; only a very
few in the world understand how the words
are strung together in this idiom.
Instead of seeing it for the dying language
that it is, he proclaims its linguistic
complexity and pretends to understand.
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